"We can honour and celebrate our seniors by providing the resources to ensure they receive the best care. We must learn from this lesson, once and for all." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (01 Oct. 2020) — "Never has the care for our seniors been more important than now," said Larry Brown, President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE). "As we celebrate October 1 as the International Day of Older Persons and the contributions our seniors have made to our communities, we do so knowing how our systems of care have failed them this year."
COVID-19 took a toll on one of the most vulnerable communityies — seniors — in the early stages of the pandemic. Over 6,000 people in long-term care homes died due to the virus. Many became ill, and many more were isolated in order to prevent further spread. Now that we are entering the second phase of the pandemic, many nursing and retirement homes are already beginning lockdown procedures again to keep residents and staff safe.
"For those who haven't dealt with the long-term care sector, what has happened so far is a huge awakening," said Brown. "But for those of us working with frontline workers, we have listened to the concerns about underfunding, creep of privatization, lack of training and ever-increasing workloads for decades. While devastating, what's happened hasn't been a surprise."
This sector has long been underfunded, providing workers with some of the lowest wages in the country. Private companies have entered the marketplace looking to extract profits from seniors living. This has meant, low wages and benefits, high turnover lack of training, scrimping on supplies and not adhering to standards of care. Reports have since found that most of the deaths in long-term care were in for-profit facilities.
Calls for long-term care to move under Canada Health Act
Based on experience and quickly seeing the rise in infections throughout long-term care facilities, especially in Ontario and Quebec, NUPGE wrote to the Prime Minister in April asking that long-term and seniors care receive the same protection as health care under the Canada Health Act.
"Moving long-term care under the Canada Health Act will provide Canadians with the national standards and public accountability that has been seriously lacking for decades," said Brown.
In a poll conducted by Abacus Data, 86% of Canadians are in favour of bringing long-term care facilities into the Canada Health Act with only 2% opposed to this action. "Governments have no right to ignore such strong public opinion on this issue," added Brown.
Pandemic impacts seniors
While contracting the virus is the biggest concern for seniors and their families, there are many other ways COVID has affected the lives of seniors. The closure or limited access to businesses have made it difficult for seniors living independently to get the supplies they require. Access to government agencies has been difficult to reach due to the increasing number of people needing to get information on programs over the last several months. Isolation itself has had a negative affect on many older people's mental health. Prices have increased on certain products like food and supplies making it even harder to live on a reduced income.
"We are thankful for the frontline workers who are serving our senior communities," said Brown. "The care they provide is key to keeping seniors healthy and happy in their homes during one of the most stressful periods in our history."
"We can honour and celebrate our seniors by providing the resources to ensure they receive the best care of their lives," said Brown. "We must learn from this lesson, once and for all."
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE